Heap is NFL's highest paid tight end (UPDATED)

OWINGS MILLS -- Todd Heap is now the highest paid tight end in the NFL, according to Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick. The Ravens are banking that Heap can regain his health and Pro Bowl form, rewarding him with a lucrative six-year contract extension believed to include a split-tier signing bonus in excess of $11 million.

The agreement in principle apparently exceeds Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow's six-year, $40 million contract that was the richest among NFL tight ends prior to him breaching his contract in a motorcycle accident.

Heap's agent, David Dunn, didn't return telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment, and the team didn't disclose contract terms.

"Todd understands what kind of commitment that is," Billick said. "Put your money where your mouth is. I believe he's the highest paid tight end in the league, and he's deserving of that. That's apt to last for 10 minutes before the next contract.

"We do everything we can to keep our own. It was Todd's time to get done. We're going to spend every penny of the cap we can. Steve Bisciotti has made that commitment."

A two-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the most athletic tight ends in the game, Heap, 25, is now under contract through 2011 when he'll turn 31.

The devout Mormon definitely didn't spend his entire signing bonus after learning Monday afternoon of the pending agreement.

"To celebrate as a family with my wife and my daughter, we went to Peter Piper Pizza," said Heap in a conference call from his Arizona home. "We got a large pizza and played some arcade games."

Heap was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Ravens' top players set to become unrestricted free agents are running back Jamal Lewis and defensive end Tony Weaver.

"This is another example of the commitment we have to signing our best players before they can become free agents,' general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement.

The news of Heap's extension was welcomed by quarterback Kyle Boller, who has connected with him for 84 receptions in two seasons.

"No one deserves this more than Todd," Boller said. "He is one of the elite playmakers in this league. He not only makes me, as a quarterback, but our entire offense, that much better."

Now, Heap can concentrate fully on getting healthy without the stress of a negotiation. He missed 10 games last season and caught just 27 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns for the NFL's 31st-ranked passing game.

"I'm still going to put a lot of pressure on myself, even more so because I was injured last year," Heap said.

Heap is rehabilitating from ankle and shoulder surgery, and is expected to miss a major portion, if not all of training camp.

"It's coming along great, at a pace that I would expect," said Heap, who began running last week. "For me, every day counts."

In four seasons, Heap has caught 168 passes for 2,038 yards and 13 touchdowns. He led the Ravens in receiving in 2002 and 2003, when he represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

Lauded by Billick as a complete tight end with blocking skills, Heap is better known for speed that linebackers and safeties can't match and creating mismatches with his 6-foot-5, 252-pound frame.

"I think you're seeing around the league the premium people are putting on tight ends," Billick said. "They draft to that need, they recognize the value of a dominant tight end, and clearly he's among the best in the league."

Drafted with the 31st pick of the first round in 2001, Heap expected to be drafted much higher. The former Arizona State standout wound up serving an invaluable apprenticeship behind Shannon Sharpe.

"It ended up being a blessing in disguise, because you really couldn't ask for a better situation," Heap said. "They made a huge commitment to me. I'm fully committed to helping us win and getting us to a Super Bowl."

NOTES: Nickel back Deion Sanders returned to practice after missing the previous day for personal reasons. He didn't take part in drills, running by himself after practice. … Wide receiver Mark Clayton (hamstring) was limited along with fullback Alan Ricard (knee). … Jamal Lewis and Terrell Suggs missed practice due to legal obligations along with offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo (triceps), defensive end Tony Weaver (leg) and kicker Matt Stover (personal reasons). … Wide receiver Randy Hymes slam-dunked the football over the goalpost after catching a touchdown. …. Offensive tackle Adam Terry is practicing with a heavily-taped, injured hand. … The offense got an assist from Billick in a two-minute drill as he flagged the defense for excessive contact.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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